Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Diplomacy," Trump-style

So apparently shouting matches with our allies, like Australia, are a thing now.  Also, Iran is "on notice," and Stephen Colbert may file copyright infringement claims.

Iran is... not impressed.  Their missile tests will continue, so they say.

Here's the thing about negotiation.  There are basically two ways to do it:  carrot and stick.  If we want something from another country, we either have to offer them something in return, or make a credible threat.  Trump is offering other countries nothing in return for what he wants.  His whole schtick (yeah, that's going to get confusing) is that he is such a great negotiator that he can get better deals just because he is Trump.  Gimme, gimme, gimme.  Take the carrot off the table, and that leaves the stick schtick.  So, he threatens and throws temper tantrums.

What, then, can he do to back up his threats?  Is there any credible threat he can make to Australia?  Not much of one.  To Iran?  Well, that's where it gets tricky.  Economically, we don't have close ties to them anyway, so the sanctions that Trump imposed just aren't a big deal, in real terms.

Can Trump credibly threaten military action against Iran?  Right now, that "n" to "q" thing is probably in everyone's minds.  Iran isn't attacking anyone.  Unlike Iraq, we currently know they don't have stockpiles of unconventional weapons.  Add the historical context of Iraq, and the rest of the world would not be on our side if Trump decided to attack Iran for conducting missile tests, particularly if it looks like Iran is honoring the nuclear deal.

That doesn't mean Trump wouldn't do it.  Here's the problem.  Trump's "negotiation" style is all about making threats.  If you make a threat and don't back it up, your threats cease to be credible, and you can't use them anymore.  Sound familiar?  I've been using this point for a while, going back to...


Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict.  Have you read it yet?  I'll be revisiting last August's "Political Science and craziness" series if this stuff with Iran heats up to anything more than bluster, but of course, we also have Trump going up against the courts on his executive orders, the nonexistent Bowling Green Massacre, and too much other craziness to cover.

When did the real world get crazier than The Onion?


  1. You did this earlier (not sure how long ago, but you did it), but you have to remember to also keep coming back to Harsanyi.
    It's also critical for the threats to work.

    1. I didn't do the Iran version because it hadn't happened yet. I did it in the abstract, and I reference Schelling all the time. Welcome to Schelling-in-action. Down the hillside we go. Trump hasn't made a direct threat, though. He imposed some new sanctions, but there hasn't been a specific threat, which is actually the right move, creating the uncertainty of, um, some guy with a funny name.